COAL TOWNSHIP - Sunday afternoon was the opening day of the local co-ed softball league, and in the crowd to watch her children play was Cindy Balonis.

The 51-year-old township woman says she's never missed a game that any of her three children have played, even as adults, even in something as casual as high-arc softball at the Bunker Hill fields.

There she was to lend her support and to watch over her 3-year-old granddaughter, Jordyn.

The men on the team sponsored by Dobson's Carpet Service were dressed in black jerseys; the ladies had pink, as did Cindy. Hers has "mom" printed on the back.

On the front of all of them, in place of the second letter "o" in the Dobson's name is a pink ribbon. The ribbon is symbolic of breast cancer awareness, and it's printed on the team's jerseys to show support to Cindy as she continues her own fight.

"I wasn't supposed to know until they took the field," she said last week, telling of how her ex-husband, Tony, with whom she maintains a great friendship, blew the lid on the surprise. "He said, 'Oh did you see them?' So he pulls them up on his phone and I saw them."

Tony, she said, didn't know any better. "'Nobody said I wasn't supposed to show her,'" she recounted him saying as she laughed.

'Can't wait'

Cindy was diagnosed with breast cancer after discovering a lump in her underarm in October. She underwent her seventh chemotherapy treatment last week. Her eighth and last treatment follows in two weeks. That appointment is marked in bold lettering on her calendar, the letters underlined.

"I'll just be so happy and dancing all over the streets when I have that last chemo. I can't wait."

She'll undergo surgery this summer. After that is a month's worth of radiation treatments.

Cindy has long worn her hair down to her waist; even longer when she was in school, so long she could sit on it. It's gone now, a common side effect of the chemotherapy. She wears a cap and refuses to wear a wig.

"They know I have cancer because they don't see the long hair and Cindy doesn't wear a hat," she said of friends and neighbors who she runs into. "I've had more people cry when they see me. I tell them, 'it's still me, it's still me inside.' "

The physical, emotional and mental tolls that come with a cancer diagnosis have been exhausting, she said, and she's noticed the impact it's had on her three children - Alicia, Amanda and Drew, all in their 20s.

"I adore my kids. They're first and foremost in my life, and I didn't want any of this to burden them - financially, emotionally, mentally, nothing," she said, adding that she had worried about how it would affect her relationship with Jordyn, Drew's daughter.

She talks on the phone with her three children daily, and they visit as often as they can. Their support is inherent, but she won't allow them to go with her to the chemotherapy treatments. She says she doesn't expect them at surgery, either, but admits they may not heed her advice when it comes to that.

Not alone

His mother and oldest sister say the jersey idea was Drew's, although he defers to others on the team for coming up with the design. He said she always treated his friends as her own children.

"For everybody to support her like that, it means a lot to her," her youngest child, Drew, said last week of his teammates wearing the pink-ribbon jerseys.

Amanda, her oldest child, said using softball as a way to honor her mother made sense. She and her father have long played the game together. Cindy used to play, too. The family has always been into athletics.

It made sense, too, because Cindy isn't alone in her fight.

"A lot of the guys, they want to make playoffs and win it for their parents. There's a couple of them who have cancer," Amanda said.

One of them is Gerry Shipe. Her son, Ron, is on the Dobson's team.

Gerry has stage three breast cancer. She was diagnosed in June, went through chemotherapy and underwent a double mastectomy last month. She begins radiation in six weeks.

"You got to have a positive outlook on this," her husband, Don, said at the game Sunday.

"I agree," his wife said.

Like Cindy, Gerry and Don said their children and grandchildren have given Gerry their full support.

Two weddings

Amanda, Cindy's middle child, wasn't at the game Sunday. She lives out of state. She was with Cindy when her mom received the results of her biopsies last fall and broke the news to the entire family so her mother wouldn't have to.

Amanda is planning a wedding for October, and Cindy says they're ahead of the game. She'll be there, she says. Her son's wedding follows the year after, and she has that one on her mind too.

As she talked of the weddings she mentioned that her hair is just beginning to grow back. She pulls her cap back and shows the proof.

"I'm positive. I will not allow it to get me down," Cindy said.